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Swiss women won a landmark climate case at the ECtHR

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Apr10,2024

Swiss women won landmark climate case at the ECtHR

A group of elderly women sued their country's government for insufficient action against climate change.

On Tuesday, the highest court of Europe — The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that the Swiss government violated the human rights of its citizens by not doing enough to combat climate change. This decision will set a precedent for future climate lawsuits, writes Reuters.

The European Court of Human Rights' ruling in favor of the more than two thousand Swiss women who brought the lawsuit is expected to reverberate in court decisions across Europe and beyond, and inspire more communities to file climate lawsuits against governments.

< p>However, given the growing tide of climate litigation, the ECtHR dismissed two other climate-related cases on procedural grounds. One of them was filed by a group of six Portuguese young people against 32 European governments, and the other — a former mayor of a French coastal town.

Swiss women known as KlimaSeniorinnen, most of whom are in their 70s, have said their government's climate inaction is putting them at risk of dying in the heat. They argue that their age and gender make them particularly vulnerable to such effects of climate change.

In her ruling, Chief Justice Siofra O'Leary said the Swiss government had failed to meet its own targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and failed to set a national carbon budget.

«It is clear that future generations are likely to bear increasingly more the heavy burden of the consequences of current failures and omissions in the fight against climate change», — said O'Leary.

One of the leaders of KlimaSeniorinnen, Rosemarie Vidler-Walty, said she still can't believe the court's decision.

"We constantly ask our lawyers: “Is this true?”. And they tell us: “This is the most you could get. The biggest possible victory,” she said.

The Swiss Federal Office of Justice, which represented the Swiss government in court, took note of the court's decision.< /p>

«Together with the authorities concerned, we will analyze the decision and consider what measures Switzerland will take in the future,— the department said in a statement.

The cases before the 17-judge panel in Strasbourg are among many climate lawsuits brought by citizens against governments based on human rights law.

The verdict in the Swiss case, which cannot be appealed, will have an international resonance, directly creating a binding legal precedent for all 46 countries that have signed the European Convention on Human Rights.

It indicates that Switzerland has a legal obligation to take more proactive measures to reduce emissions.< /p>

If Switzerland does not update its policy, further lawsuits could be launched at the national level and courts could impose financial penalties, said Lucy Maxwell, co-director of the nonprofit Climate Litigation Network.

Switzerland has committed to reducing emissions. of greenhouse gases by 50% by 2030 compared to the level of 1990. Bern proposed stronger measures to achieve this goal, but voters rejected them in a referendum in 2021 as too burdensome.

The verdict could also affect future decisions by the Strasbourg court, which has stayed six other climate cases pending today's solutions.

Among them — lawsuit against the Norwegian government alleging that it violated human rights by issuing new licenses to explore for oil and gas in the Barents Sea after 2035.

«This sets an important legally binding precedent that serves a model of how to successfully sue your own government over climate failures»,— says Ruth Delbare, Director of Legal Campaigns at the global civil rights movement Avaaz.

Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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